Alas my first two weeks visit to the north/west side of Michigan is now in the record books. There sure was a lot to see and do in this area, and its beauty and splendor was most certainly seen and appreciated. This truly is a summer wonderland with outdoor recreation a plenty. I’m glad I got to spend some time here, and I would certainly put this area on my go-back to list.
Traverse City is very much a tourist town, but not in the least in a bad way. It’s downtown is filled with great restaurants, lots of brew pubs, and wonderful shops to meander through. Its lakeshore area is like one giant city park – free to enjoy. They have wonderful beaches, a giant playground complete with a kids water play area, beach volleyball, and a wonderful paved 13 mile bike/hike trail known as the Traverse Area Recreation Trail – much of which runs along the Traverse Bay shoreline. A wonderful place to spend a bright and sunny day.
Just north about 25 miles from Traverse City, at the tip of Old Mission Peninsula is Mission Point Lighthouse. Among its many claims to fame, one is its location on the 45th Parallel – which translates to the halfway point between the North Pole and the Equator. It was built in 1870 and like most lighthouses, its mission was to warn ships to avoid its rocky shoals. Today, it is a beautiful park with sandy beaches, picnic areas, and hiking trails.
On the upper west coast, along Lake Michigan, you will find the breathtaking Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. This national park was established in 1970, and encompasses over 71,000 acres, 100 miles of trails, 70 miles of shoreline, and attracts over 1.5 million visitors annually. I took the 7.5 mile, 90 minute scenic loop known as the Pierce-Stocking Scenic Drive which provides 12 stops to showcase many of the most unique overlooks and breathtaking scenery this park has to offer. At stop 10, you are welcomed to the iconic landform that gave this national park its name – the wonderful sand dunes. Sitting very high above the shoreline, these dunes were amazing. In fact, there were warning signs that cautioned you not to go down to the waters edge as the return trip up the dunes is extremely strenuous. While there certainly were a few young energetic folks that ignored that warning, I took the high road and chose to heed it! Besides, the view from the top was most spectacular. I am told that in the winter, the national park becomes a crosscountry ski and snowshoe haven. With 50 miles of marked but untreated trails, those winter adventurists have great adventure opportunities. Alas, I’ll have to pass on that!
Lastly, I visited and toured what was once the Northern Michigan Asylum – now know as The Villages at Grand Traverse Commons. Built in the early 1880s, this was one of the first psychiatric institutes to employ kindness and comfort treatment to their patients, in lieu of restraints, shock therapy, and lobotomies. Also, as part of the “work is therapy” philosophy, the asylum provided opportunities for patients to gain a sense of purpose through farming, furniture construction, fruit canning, and other trades that kept the institution fully self-sufficient. Much of the main building has been transitioned to shops, restaurants, business offices and even resedential – all of which maintained much of the original character and architecture of the building. The tour I took also includes private area such as some of the unrestored outbuilding and the amazing underground ventilation tunnel. Pretty cool place to explore!
Thanks to my daughter Samantha, my sister-in-law Helen and her sister Katie, I have become hooked on playing a phone-based game called Pokemon Go. While 60 year old men is probably not their target demographic, it does offer some fun and encourages you to get outside and do some walking – both of which I enjoy. So, with that, I get out there and enjoy playing. About one day each month they have what is called a Community Day – with special characters to catch and lots of game bonuses to encourage play – and particularly to go out and meet others who also play which is the community element. As luck would have it, I happened to be bike riding at the park in Traverse City during the event, and decided to stop and play for a while. As I looked around, it became really apparent and obvious that I was not alone. Lots of folks walking around, head down staring into their phones, with gestures on the screen that certainly suggested play. So, I grabbed some photos of them and built this collage of players. One young girl was even dressed to mimic the character of the trainer. Too funny!
Of course, there were also some Roadside America places to visit. Being that Michigan is well known for growing cherries, there were a couple of cherry related sites to visit. These included the North America’s only ICPSF (International Cherry Pit Spitting Federation) official certified olympic-sized pit spitting arena, as well as the pie pan used to make the over 17ft, 28,000 pound Guinness World Record cherry pie back in 1987. Very cool indeed! I also got to see the tree of the lost soles – not exactly what I expected, but certainly accurately named. Lastly, I visited the gravesite of a world renowned cow – yes you read that right, a cow. As mentioned above that the Northern Michigan Asylum had their own farm, there was a cow named Traverse Colantha Walker that was born and raised on their farm from 1916 to 1932. This cow became a world champion producer – giving over 200,000 lbs of milk, and 7,000 lbs of milk fat in her lifetime. She was loved by all, and now rests peacefully in a beautiful nearby botanical garden.
Lastly, I wanted to share a story about a rock I found that turned out to be kinda special. Given that I have a super large big-boy truck, I often park at the farthest point in a parking lot as I can when shopping. This allows me to take the extra parking space(s) I need to safely park the beast, and also affords me to take an extra long walk to get to wherever I’m going. On one particular day while grocery shopping, I was walking from the truck to the store and happened to see a bright stone on the ground. It caught my eye, so I reached over and picked it up. It was very smooth and shiny and had and interesting pattern on it. Though I had no idea what it was, I thought it was cool, so I put it in my pocket to save as a souvenir. Several days later on a Saturday while I was walking through a local farmers market, I came upon a beautiful wood table that someone had made, that included inlays of the same rock that I had found in the parking lot. I of course stopped to chat with the artisan and asked about the stone inlays. Turns out, they are called Petoskey Stones – found predominantly on the lake shores in the northwestern region of Michigan’s lower peninsula centered around the town of Petoskey. Also the state stone of Michigan, these are actually a rock and a fossil composed of sediment and fossilized coral that existed some 350 million years ago. Treasured by the locals, and used in all sorts of crafts, the Petoskey Stone is quite unique. Turns out, it was a very nice find!
I don’t often go into much detail about the various campgrounds that I have stayed in – mostly because they are not necessarily anything special. Often just a strip of land to hold my RV, perhaps a pool, and sometimes even a put-put course. However, the campground I stayed in while in Traverse City was particularly noteworthy. It’s actually owned by an Airstream club, and used to be exclusive to only Airstream RVs. Though many airstream RVs remain, others have since been welcomed in. It is also a combination rental and owner campground – with some sites rented to travelers like me, and others are owned by individuals and commonly used as a summer getaway. This particular campground was especially nice, with well designed sites and common space, a beautiful lake, with some very fortunate lakefront site owners. It was also very well maintained with beautiful landscaping and impeccable cleanliness. Just an all around very nice place to spend a couple of weeks. With that said, I continue my west coast of Michigan tour, heading further south to spend the better part of a month in the area of Muskegon. I’m looking forward to my continued adventures in this state, as I become a definite fan. Till later, safe travels!